Dr. Nadine Ibrahim, a professor in the University of Waterloo’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Turkstra Chair in Urban Engineering, never misses a chance to inspire her students to think about how the application of their knowledge could create solutions that improve and sustain our humanity and prosperity.  

Ibrahim brings sustainability to life by focusing students on real-world problems facing humanity. She uses the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the more targeted six Canadian Engineering Grand Challenges to frame her lectures and course projects and inspire her students to solve problems related to issues of resilient infrastructure, access to reliable and sustainable energy, access to safe water, inclusive and safe cities, inclusive and safe industrialization and access to affordable and inclusive STEM education.  

“It’s important to give students the bigger picture, to show them how their coursework relates to the real-world, so that it complements the theory and provides practical applications,” says Ibrahim. “Showing engineering students how and where their work can make a positive impact energizes them and results in incredible work!”  

Ibrahim notes her definition of sustainable engineering continues to evolve, most recently incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing, “including planning for seven generations forward, in addition to learning from seven generations past.”  

Her CIVE 230 course, Engineering and Sustainable Development, serves as a starting point for many students interested in sustainability in engineering. This required class for civil engineering also counts towards the interdisciplinary Diploma in Sustainability. For the course project, students present an innovative idea and visual representation of a sustainable city. These projects are then combined into Sustainability e-books created together by the class. 

Tehnaad Sandhu, a 4th-year civil engineering student, credits Ibrahim’s teaching style for helping her understand sustainable engineering and her role as an engineer and a leader.  

Nadine Ibrahim with fourth year civil engineering student Tehnaad SandhuDr. Nadine Ibrahim, professor of civil and environmental engineering, with Tehnaad Sandhu, 4th-year civil engineering student. 

 “Professor Ibrahim’s classes helped me discover the kind of engineer I want to be,” says Sandhu. “Her approach to teaching allowed me to develop the skills and pathway for a career in green building solutions and sustainability consulting.”  

Bringing diverse groups of students together to tackle city-level problems is what Ibrahim does with the interdisciplinary Sustainability and Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship (SSEF). Last year she worked with colleagues at the Pearl Sullivan Engineering IDEAs Clinic to bring together international students to work with senior representatives from municipalities from across Canada, which in 2023 was with London, Ontario. “The students and the cities loved it so much, we’re doing it again in 2024,” Ibrahim said. 

Ibrahim’s commitment to education takes place outside the classrooms too. As vice-president of the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA) and chair of its Engineer of 2050 initiative, she is working to identify attributes that will define the skills future engineers will need to thrive. The findings of this will be shared with CEEA members, engineering institutions and other stakeholders. Coincidentally, this timeline aligns with the University’s “Waterloo at 100” strategy which sets out a vision for the University’s educational role and identity in 2057. 

“As educators, we have to think beyond the now to help prepare future generations as best as we can for the world ahead, educating the problem finders and problem solvers needed to lead societal change.” She adds that when hearing from high school students looking to get into engineering, she encourages them to think about world problems that they want to solve, in addition to being good at math and science. 

Feature image: Teaching associates from the "How to Change the World" course with Dr. Nadine Ibrahim, professor of civil and environmental engineering